Bulls too good for Cheetahs
The Bulls cemented their place at the top of the South African conference with a 30-25 win over the Cheetahs in a decisive Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The win also ensured the Bulls stayed in the top two of the global standings, a position of power in the play-offs.
It was a game that produced a mixed nag, some sublime first-half play and a more tactical approach from both teams after the break.
The Bulls' biggest problem remain the scrums – almost every set piece becoming a scrum or free kick to the Cheetahs in the first half.
Dean Greyling found himself frequently on the wrong side of the referee and after the first scrum in the second half received a warning, which prompted coach Frans Ludeke to replace him.
As was expected, the Bulls had the better of the line-outs, poaching a number of the Cheetahs' throws.
The men from Pretoria also looked far more impressive with ball in hand, showing great variety in their attack and running with greater purpose to make huge inroads – especially in the midfield.
Also, the Cheetahs struggled to get into good territory, with the Bulls playing a far more accurate and effective kicking game.
It was a nervous start by both teams – the Bulls going close inside the first couple of minutes, only for the TMO to find a knock-on when Bjorn Basson and Robert Ebersohn collided close to the line. There was a scrum penalty against the Bulls and a couple of line-outs that the Bulls stole on the Cheetahs' throw.
The Bulls continued to run hard and in waves at the Cheetahs, with their reward coming in the form of an eighth-minute try by Werner Kruger, after Chiliboy Ralepelle had also made a bust through the Cheetahs' defence. Morné Steyn added the conversion – 7-0.
However, a charged down of an attempted clearance by Francois Hougaard allowed the Cheetahs great field position. And it was some magic by Willie le Roux – a chip-'n-chase – saw the Cheetahs wing get a try back. Riaan Smit levelled the score with his conversion.
The Bulls continued to play the game at pace and towards the end of the first quarter hey got reward again – a penalty being turned into a line-out five metres out and from there their powerful was just too good for the Cheetahs, Deon Stegmann sitting comfortably at the back of the fast-moving mass of bodies. Steyn's conversion made it 14-7.
Smit slotted a penalty just short of the half-hour mark, as the teams kept hammering at each other – the Bulls often looking more threatening with the ball in hand, but failing to find those finishing touches.
Right on the half-time hooter Steyn slotted a penalty, as the visitors took a 17-10 lead into the break.
Smit and Steyn exchanged early penalties after the break (20-13), as the Cheetahs suffered a huge blow – Francois Uys leaving the field with what appeared to be a fractured arm.
Steyn missed one penalty and then slotted one towards the end of the third quarter, as the Bulls looked to start taking control – 23-13.
The crucial moment came in the 64th minute, Jan Serfontein busting through the midfield and setting up a strong raid which finished with Jano Vermaak going over for a try. Steyn's conversion made it 30-13.
The Cheetahs kept looking for a comeback and it came in the form of some swift hands by Robert Ebersohn, which saw Riaan Smit go over in the corner. Smith couldn't add the extras, but at 18-30, with 10 minutes to go, there was hope for the home team.
It was now just a matter of getting a consolation bonus point for losing by seven or less. It came in the form of a try by replacement prop Trevor Nyakane, who wormed his way over a minute from time – a score that required numerous views from the TMO. Smit added the conversion – 25-30 with one restart remaining.
The Cheetahs attempted to run it out of their 22, but were quickly driven into touch – with the Bulls cementing their position at the top of South African conference and in the top two of the global standings.
Man of the match: Adriaan Strauss, as always, worked hard, Coenie Oosthuizen was powerful in the scrums and big on defence, Robert Ebersohn again managed to win some crucial turnovers and tackled his heart out, while Pieter Labuschagne and Heinrich Brüssow worked hard without much reward. Pierre Spies often got over the advantage line, while Arno Botha was the most effective of the Bulls' forwards with his carries, line-outs and defence. Juandré Kruger and Flip van der Merwe were also dominant in the line-outs and worked hard on defence, with Chiliboy Ralepelle adding considerable value with his workrate. JJ Engelbrecht and Jan Serfontein won the midfield battle against their more senior Cheetahs rials, Johan Sadie and Robert Ebersohn. Our award goes to the two Bulls centres.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Le Roux, Smit, Nyakane
Cons: Smit 2
Pens: Smit 2
For the Bulls:
Tries: W Kruger, Stegmann, Vermaak
Cons: Steyn 3
Pens: Steyn 3
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)